Rolls-Royce, aerospace, and temperatures of 1,400°C: All in a day's work at Lancashire's ELE Advanced Technologies
It can be hard to fathom the kinds of extreme pressure and temperature that the aerospace industry deals in. Heat bordering on 1,400°C and stress which is quite literally out of this world. And that's where ELE Advanced Technologies comes in.
A manufacturer of specialist components for the aerospace, power, and automotive sectors, the East Lancashire-based company was originally founded in 1955 as Earby Light Engineers, which made compressor blades for Rolls-Royce. And, over the intervening decades, ELE has firmly established itself at the forefront of the 21st century tech and engineering revolution.
"We're manufacturers of exotic materials for turbine components mainly serving the aerospace market as well as power generation sector: anything at the hot end of the engine which, as you can imagine, requires quite specialised materials," explains David Dudley, ELE's Technical Director. "So that's what we make.
"We also specialise in cooling-hole geometry which allows components to operate at temperatures higher than they previously could," adds the Accrington-born David, 51, who originally started working at the company in 1996. "Before they'd just have melted."
Using high-tech engineering technology and advanced robotics to produce crucial components such as turbine blades, nozzle guide vanes, and ring-seal segments, ELE is an official Safran Aerospace supplier and, during the pandemic, has invested £9m on new machinery and digital tools as they continue to evolve as a supplier for blue-chip customers.
Also on the verge of moving to a larger premises next year, ELE's new factory will be designed with a more integrated approach in mind. They've also been working with Made Smarter, an £8m government-backed programme helping manufacturers in the North West embrace new tech, to ensure they're best placed to retain their status as an industry-leader.
"Through Made Smarter, we've been looking at machine condition-monitoring, which uses data to predict issues rather than waiting for them," says David. "Coupled with the work we do with the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, our approach allows us to keep abreast of what the future of the industry will be and offer customers solutions.
"It's an exciting time for us and we've seen substantial growth during the pandemic which has allowed us to invest and introduce new technologies," he adds. "That's been a huge step for the business because it'll ensure we remain competitive despite market uncertainty relating to Covid and Brexit.
"Whilst managing the workplace has been challenging, Covid's not really touched us from a demand point of view, however," continues David. "In fact, we've grown by 50% over the last 18 months at a time when lots of aerospace companies struggled. Our growth has come at a fortunate time because we've been able to offer people who've lost their jobs new positions."
Having welcomed the implementation of a wide range of technological advances, ELE is forecasting that such changes will also make a big difference when it comes to productivity. In fact, the bespoke machine condition-monitoring solution which uses data collection to predict issues and prevent malfunctions alone is anticipated to yield a 10% productivity boost.
What is more, the tech will also create an additional new role in the maintenance team and upskill four members of the current workforce. For ELE, a company which boasts almost 250 members of staff across its two branches in the UK and in Slovakia, those figures are very positive indeed.
"I love my job and there's a lot of pride in the work," says David. "In this industry, every day throws up subtle challenges, but it's about how we can step back and put things in place to solve issues before they arise. One of our straplines is 'making things possible', so we look to take problems away from customers and offer them solutions.
"That kind of work is never mundane, it's complex and we enjoy that," he adds. "We enjoy it because it means we can leave work each day knowing we've done a good job."